When I first moved into my second-year student house, after a year of living in miserable university halls with complete strangers, I was excited by the prospect of sharing with people I thought I knew relatively well. Little did I know, three weeks down the line, I would begin to wholeheartedly regret my decision and wish more than anything to be back in my own private space with the comfortable anonymity that flat sharing brings. Therefore, when the term, and indeed the year, was cut short by the overwhelmingly disruptive coronavirus pandemic, I did not share the same horror and mourning of my peers, but instead felt an intense relief that it was finally all over.
Although house sharing with friends can be great fun, and certainly less isolating than being in halls or living alone, the reality is that most living situations will end up being far from perfect. At many universities across the UK, as was the case with mine, the house hunting process can begin as early as October and is well over by the end of first time at the beginning of December. As a result, you end up choosing the people you are going to spend a year living with a mere six weeks after meeting them, not to mention the mad housing rush which makes it virtually impossible to find a property that everyone can agree on, is within a reasonable price range and close enough to campus that the new walk to class won’t be too much of a shock to the system after living practically next door to them all throughout first year. Perhaps if you get lucky and are initially allocated a flat of people that you immediately get along with, or meet some like-minded people on your course within the first few weeks, then the whole process becomes automatically less stressful. But if, like it was for me, there is no obvious group to latch onto or a particular individual you feel really passionate about sticking with, then you will most likely end up with friends of a friend or people you vaguely know but don’t necessarily have that much in common with.
For some, I am sure this works out fine, maybe even ends up being the best thing that could have happened. However, if you end up finding out that you and your new housemates are fundamentally different people, then by this point it is usually too late, as it is impossible to really know how a situation is going to turn out before you’ve actually tried it. At least in halls, where everyone has been randomly allocated a group of people who they may or may not find that they get along with, there is no responsibility on your part to try and make those people your closest friends. It is different once you have actually chosen people to live with, as you not only have to live with the regret of your decision, but also the self-loathing that comes with an awareness of not knowing yourself as well as you thought you did. Looking back, I wish I had not been so hasty in accepting the first offer I received, and instead waited to consider my options more carefully. Most likely, and I speak from experience on this one, if you do not click with a group or individual the first time you meet them, then you most likely never will. So, the safest option in this scenario is always to politely decline, a couple of weeks awkwardness if that person or group chooses to take offence at your rejection is infinitely better than the alternative.
My specific situation no doubt was not helped by the fact that, despite managing to secure a house that was significantly nicer than any of the student houses I had previously come across, I was somewhat unfairly allocated the worst bedroom in the house. On the ground floor and right next to the front door, my room was the smaller, coldest and noisiest of the five, not to mention that it was situated right in the centre of all the ‘house activities’ that I desperately wanted to be excluded from. This became increasingly frustrating throughout the year as some of my housemates (incidentally those with the best rooms) were spending the majority of their time at home or at their boyfriends houses, while the others insisted on staying up late talking, playing music or watching TV in the room directly next door to mine. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for university students having a good time, and am all too familiar with the annoyance of being told to keep the noise down at 11pm on a Saturday night by antisocial flatmates, but considering my housemates once called campus security to shut down a neighbouring house party because it was disrupting their sleep, it seemed a tad hypocritical not to adhere to the same rules of mindfulness within their own house.
My only piece of advice to those choosing their second, or third, year housing would be to not rush into a decision that you will have to spend the rest of the year living with the consequences of, quite literally. There are options other than those which add so much extra pressure to the beginning of university, whether this be living in private halls for the remainder of your time or waiting until further in the year to see if a more favourable situation emerges. Take it from me, there is nothing more disheartening than feeling alone in a house full of people, simply because you have nothing to say to each other and no idea what it was that made you think you ever did.